Thieves are demanding $1 million to return Mitt Romney's stolen tax records. (Just picture them asking with one pinky finger delicately poised at the corner of the mouth.)
You would think that with such potentially damaging information at a critical time in the U.S. presidential election, they could have at least upped the ante a little.
Also, the fact that the request came via Internet, from individuals who claim a PricewaterhouseCoopers insider helped them "gain access to… network file servers and copy over the tax documents for one Willard M. Romney and Ann D. Romney" sounds like the sort of hoax conjured up by a group of remarkably intelligent college kids.
But as the Globe and Mail reports, this is the sum required to end one of the strangest high-stakes blackmail schemes in recent memory — and it's serious enough that the Secret Service has started investigating.
To provide some context, Romney is a rich man. A very rich man who has refused to release his tax returns, except for 2010 (plus a summary for 2011).
His refusal for transparency has generated all sorts of speculation that the Republican nominee may have used "complex avoidance tactics" to reduce his tax load.
Though not illegal per se, these skillful manipulations could potentially sink his campaign.
That's the trump card this anonymous band of tax form marauders is hoping to bank on.
"The deal is quite simple. Convert $1,000,000 USD to Bitcoins," the alleged blackmailers wrote. Bitcoins are an experimental new digital currency that allows for money transfers that are virtually impossible to trace.
"Failure to do this before September 28, the entire world will be allowed to view the documents with a publicly released key to unlock everything."
The threats appear on Pastebin — a website also coded for maximum anonymity.
Additional threats have been sent to Republican and Democratic campaign offices around the Tennessee area via encrypted flash drives.
Interested parties have two options: the million-dollar bounty will unlock a pair of websites.
The first will reveal the supposed tax documents; the second will immediately destroy them.
"Whoever is the winner does not matter to us," the message revealed.
While the messages were initially treated as pranks, higher-ups began to take them seriously when the envelopes mailed to local party offices appeared to contain a scanned Romney signature on one of his 1040 forms.
If this proves to be a legitimate deal, it will be fascinating to see how U.S. authorities tackle sophisticated Internet crime.
Poor Mitt isn't the first presidential candidate (or former president) to be the target of a moneymaking scheme.
Decades after his 1981 assassination attempt, a few craven capitalists attempted to sell what they claimed to be a vial of Ronald Reagan's dried blood taken from that event.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation immediately sprang to action, threatening legal action against the sale and purchase.